Parasitism or Pregnancy?: The Horror of Birth in Butler’s “Bloodchild”

By: Ariel Everitt

In the world of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild,” human males choose to become hosts/surrogate mothers for alien young in exchange for a home on the alien planet, although it means alien eggs are laid in their abdomens.  The imagery of these parasitic pregnancies and births (surgical extraction of the alien larvae) is intentionally horrific, yet eerily similar to traditional pregnancies and birth.  This led me to wonder if the parasitism/pseudo-pregnancy of “Bloodchild” is horrific through the corruption of a natural, innocent human process, or because pregnancy and birth are inherently horrifying to us — and if this horror might be merely amplified by the alien ways of the parasitism in “Bloodchild.”

AEThe already rather gory images that accompany traditional birth are taken to a new extreme in “Bloodchild.”  In the birth scene of Lomas’ parasitic alien young, the alien T’Gatoi, future parasite and loving companion of the narrator, “found the first grub. It was fat and deep red with his blood—both inside and out.”  Particularly the redness of the skin of the grub calls to mind the bright red skin of babies just after birth, drawing on the corruption of an innocent feature with alien features to create horror.  In this scene, T’Gatoi slices open Lomas to extract “the writhing grub carefully […] somehow ignoring the terrible groans of the man.”  Here, T’Gatoi is reminiscent of a traditional human doctor who must work, despite a suffering mother, to ensure the safe birth of a human baby.  The alien child, borne from the abdomen of Lomas, is described as “limbless and boneless at this stage, perhaps fifteen centimeters long and two thick, blind and slimy with blood,” similar to human babies soft with fat and slimy with the reddish fluids incorporated in birth.  Additionally, the narrator’s reaction to this birth is not terribly different from some reactions to ordinary births: “I staggered out, barely made it. Beneath the tree just beyond the front door, I vomited until there was nothing left to bring up.” Stories of fathers panicking at the sight of the birth of their child are not uncommon, and some even include vomiting.  Perhaps we otherwise repress the natural horrors of birth with the beauty of life, and only in visceral reactions can we truly express these feelings of horror.

The parent-child trust that exists in pregnancy may be corrupted by the danger presented to the human host by the alien children, but I argue that the traditional parent-child trust in pregnancy may be deceptive.  In “Bloodchild,” the threat of the alien babies to their host is indicated so: “It had already eaten its own egg case, but apparently had not yet begun to eat its host. […] Let alone, it would have gone on excreting the poisons that had both sickened and alerted Lomas. Eventually it would have begun to eat. By the time it ate its way out of Lomas’s flesh, Lomas would be dead or dying […]”.  Though the grubs present a very clear threat to their surrogate parent, it cannot be said that natural human pregnancy and childbirth present no risk to mothers.  After all, the resources that support a mother’s body become the baby’s as well during pregnancy.  Further, a human baby can cause potentially lethal injury to a mother during pregnancy and birth.  There is often tragedy acknowledged in the death of a mother during childbirth, yet rarely acknowledged is there any sense of horror in this death.  This is likely because we have evolved to see childbirth, and even the loss of a mother’s life during it, as a beautiful event due to its role in continuing our gene lines.  But might we these deaths be horrifying to us from a different perspective?

Further, we see the creation of lives of our own species as something beautiful, but the creation of other lifeforms, if it involves our bodies, as extremely horrific: for instance, Butler was inspired to write “Bloodchild” by botflies, which lay eggs in human skin in order to birth new life.  The key difference between parasitism of this sort and reproduction are that parasites are members of a different species, while our children are members of our own species and continuations of our gene lines.  Thus, our feelings of horror about this parasitism have surely been shaped by our evolutionary history.  Does this merit the tremendous difference in feelings we derive from these events of the birth of new life: either absolute horror or absolute happiness?  And it is precisely this difference that “Bloodchild” navigates.  The protagonist loves the alien to whose children he will become host/surrogate mother.  Thus, “Bloodchild” is a horror story, but it is also a love story.  It is a story of parasitism, but it is also a story of loving sacrifice for new life.

Work Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild And Other Stories. Seven Stories Press, 1996.

Advertisements

My Crippling Fear of the Film “Signs”

By: Chelsea Pingston

I was 7 years old when I first saw the film, Signs. It’s basically a science fiction thriller about an alien invasion and how a family that lives on a farm deals with it. I’m really bad at summarizing plots so click here for a more in depth summary. Anyway, my oldest sister was babysitting me while our parents were at work or running errands during the film’s opening night in theaters. She decided to take me along with her friends to see the film and told me not to tell mom or dad. I had no idea what the film was about or why she wanted to keep it a secret from our parents. I was just excited for a night at the theater with my sister and her friends (mainly because she never included me with her friends because of our age gap). I remember my excitement of the drive to the theater and the pure euphoria I felt when my sister bought me a bag of popcorn and an icee (looking back on it, she was totally bribing me so that I wouldn’t tell our parents what we were doing). All of us gathered into the theater and chose the back row where the cool kids sat and soon enough the lights turned off and the film began. The film started with me happily munching on popcorn and the film ended with me on my sister’s lap and wrapped in her shirt. She was clearly frustrated with me because of how much the film terrified me.

Once we got home that night I slept in my parent’s bed with the scene of the black, faceless alien walking across the yard at the child’s birthday party replaying over and over in my head. Here’s the scene I’m referring to (I was literally shaking when I searched for this video clip for you guys).

I began to sleep with my parents every night for almost a week. They finally sat down and asked me why I was so scared until I told them the truth (with much dismay from my sister). They were mad at my sister for allowing me to see the movie and they were frustrated with me because my fear of aliens stuck with me for another two weeks until my mom did the coolest thing any mom could ever do. She finally sat me down and called the actor who played the alien in the movie and had him talk to me on the phone and explain to me that the alien was not real and that he was just an actor. He even went as far as to tell me that if aliens were real, that they were harmless. After that phone call felt so relieved. It was incredible. That night and every night after that, I slept peacefully in my own bed.

Years later my mom and I talked about what she had done for me. She admitted to me that I had not talked on the phone with the actor from Signs, but she had instead called our local theater and asked a young usher to convince me, her daughter, that he was the actor of the alien and asked him to help me not be afraid of the film anymore. I will never forget what my mom and the theater usher did for me. It had helped me overcome not only my fear of aliens, but also every horror movie I had watched from that day forward. It helped me realize that the monsters on screen were just actors and actresses, nothing more.

Recurring Dreams

By: Onaca Bennett

bennett

I’ve always had an incredibly active imagination. My mother tells me, although I can’t remember it myself, that I used to tell her stories about odd men that would come and take me away in the middle of the night. Oftentimes, when I do dream I dream so vividly that I wake up trying to remember if certain events actually happened in the real world, or if they were all just in my head. Honestly, I still sometimes wonder if I really couldn’t levitate on brooms as a child, because I’m occasionally sure that I can perfectly remember it. The dream I remember the most from childhood though, and definitely the one I’m most creeped out by, is a certain recurring one about aliens.

Once a year, around the same month, I would have this dream. It started out fairly normally, in the elementary school that I went to. It would be the end of a class day, and most of the kids had left, though one or another that I was close to that year would usually still be hanging around. Slowly, I would realize that something was wrong, and begin looking for my mother, who worked as a teacher there. Halfway to her, in front of the cafeteria, I would run into one of the teachers. She seemed to be talking oddly, in a stilted, buzzing sort of speech, until finally I would try to pass her and antennas would slowly rise from her head.

I’m not entirely sure what happened between that and the end of the dream, for all the times I had it, but I know that it usually involved a lot of running, battling, and a general alien invasion of the school. Every year, I would end up with the aliens captured, or retreating to their spaceship, telling me that they would return again the next year. And they did. Year, after year, after year.

Then, one year, the dream came, we battled, the aliens were defeated, and they looked at me and said…well, not what was always said. They told me they were done, and that they were never coming back. And the thing that really freaks me out about that, above all else? After that, I never had the dream again. Not even once.

I’ve had nightmares about haunted mansions, detached thumbs hanging from cave ceilings, murderers invading my house, and wedding massacres, but the fact that these gosh darned aliens came back every year, at the same time, and stopped coming after they said they would, just gets to me. I mean, I’m not gonna say that I secretly must have actually had aliens invading my mind every year, but isn’t it just a little creepy to you?